RUGBY UNION: Knowing the luck of the Irish, I'm backing the French
Wednesday 02 February 2005
The odds may not seem generous at all to those who have loyally backed the boys in green over the years at 14-1 or thereabouts on the theory that, if Brian O'Driscoll scores some tries and Ronan O'Gara kicks his goals, it will be all right on the night. But the view seems to be that if they do not win the Championship this time round, they are never going to win it.
They certainly have the luck of the draw, meeting England in Dublin and France in the same spot two weeks later. They have probably the best pair of locks in Europe in Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly. Their centres, O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, recall a more generous age, though D'Arcy will be challenged by Gavin Henson of Wales for a place in the Lions XV.
Above all, in these violent and risky times, they are relatively free of injury. Even Denis Hickie, one of the quickest wings in the northern hemisphere on the select occasions when he is fit, is able to take the field against Italy in Rome on Sunday.
Ireland will presumably win this match. But they could come unstuck against Scotland at Murrayfield and the match against Wales in Cardiff on the last Saturday of the Six Nations season could well see them go down. Never underestimate the capacity of the Irish to win the matches they are expected to lose, and to lose those they are expected to win.
At 9-1, Wales are the team for a flutter. Nevertheless their forwards are a source of some worry and not just the front five, either. If Mike Ruddock, the Wales coach, had taken my advice, he would have been in even greater trouble than that in which he now finds himself. This was to settle on Colin Charvis at No 6 and Martyn Williams at No 7. If he had shared my view, he would now be looking for two replacement flankers instead of one.
There was a time in Wales, long ago, when the open-side wing forward was a player who in glamour ranked with a centre or even an outside-half. No longer. There is no acknowledged third choice after Williams and Charvis, who is not a natural No 7 in any case.
The backs are more encouraging. They usually are. The shift of Iestyn Harris back to rugby league has not weakened the team, for Harris's place was never wholly secure. Wrongly so, and Gavin Henson has proved a more than adequate substitute. Oddly enough, he strikes me as a player who would be equally suited to league. The former Welsh player of whom he most reminds me is Terry Price, who spent all his top-class rugby career at full-back and then went to the bad, poor chap.
Like Price, Henson has a tremendous boot. It would be a pity for Wales to waste it. I hope Ruddock can devise some satisfactory division of labour between Henson and Stephen Jones. The obvious solution is to give the longer kicks to Henson, whether they are to touch or at goal. This is what Scotland did with Craig Chalmers and Gavin Hastings when they were lucky enough to have both in the side.
Just as people say that if Ireland do not win the Six Nations this season, they never will, so also are they saying - equally irrationally - that, in the England match, it is now or never for Wales. Despite my doubts, and even though the odds are not specially inviting, I have decided to back France, who have served me well over the years.
My other investment is of pounds 50 in Leicester to win the Heineken Cup at 11-2. If they can beat Leinster at Lansdowne Road, they have two home matches. The first is, probably, against Toulouse in England, though not at Welford Road. The final is at Murrayfield, goodness knows why, for it has lately become something of a rugby mausoleum. But at least the Tigers' fans will be able to get there up the motorway with comparative ease.
Latest in Sport
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: Ghosts of past cast a massive shadow
Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao? Ricky Hatton, Mike Tyson, Ronda Rousey, George Foreman and more make their predictions
Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
What time does Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao start?
Kyle Walker dog video: Tottenham defender categorically denies 'disgusting' rumours
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 5 9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...
£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...
£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...